— Written By Sarah Roberson
Wherever you go this time of year you can’t help but notice poinsettias. Discount stores, grocery stores, garden centers, nurseries, and hardware stores all carry this popular plant. If you are interested in purchasing poinsettias for yourself or as a gift this article may provide you with some valuable information.
There are a few factors that are important when selecting poinsettias. Choose plants in full color with fully expanded bracts. Bracts are the colorful part of the poinsettia, which are actually modified leaves. They come in shades of red, pink, white, and multi-colored. The true flowers are the small yellow centers. Select plants with dense foliage that are about 2 1/2 times larger than the size of the pot. Make sure the plants have strong, stiff stems that are not broken. Avoid poinsettias that show signs of wilt.
Once the perfect poinsettia has been selected, there are a few things you need to know about caring for it. First, place your poinsettia in the sunniest part of a room. Avoid drafts and heating sources. Water the plant thoroughly when it gets dry. Make sure the foil wrapper allows water to drain freely to prevent drowning your plant. This may mean punching holes in the bottom of the wrapper and setting the poinsettia on a plate or catch pan. To retain the beauty, keep temperatures below 70 degrees but above 50 degrees. By the way, keeping your thermostat set at 68 degrees or lower in the winter will save you quite a few dollars in heating costs. If you plan to keep the poinsettia plant for a few months, make sure to fertilize it twice each month with a 20-10-20 soluble fertilizer. This will keep the leaves green and healthy as you enjoy the other colors the plant provides. 
Once a few weeks or (if you are really good or lucky) a few months pass you will find yourself with a poinsettia that has lost about half of the colorful bracts. At that point you have a few choices with poinsettias. You can get rid of them or save them for next year. If you discard them, place plants and potting soil with yard waste so they can be recycled as mulch or you could compost them. If you decide to save the plants for next year you have more patience than I do. If you want to reuse the plants again do a web search using the key words “poinsettia care ncsu” and you should find a link for a Horticulture Information Leaflet on Consumer Care of Poinsettias. The leaflet will give you all the details related to preserving the plant and producing beautiful flowers and colorful bracts for next year. 
This time of year the subject of poinsettias being poisonous always comes up. Most concern is over illness or death to children or pets that consume plant parts. Research conducted in 1971 by the Society of American Florists and Ohio State University determined that a child of 50 pounds would have to eat 500 to 600 leaves in order to begin experiencing ill effects. A study released in 2000 by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University found that of nearly 23,000 poinsettia exposures reported to poison control centers nationwide, there was no significant toxicity. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not list poinsettia on its list of toxic plants. Having quoted these sources, I am not a physician and realize that some people are sensitive to things others are not. My suggestion is to keep all houseplants or other plant decorations that may have features attractive to young children or pets out of their reach just to be safe. Hopefully there are plenty of other more tasty treats around during the Holidays to keep those little hands, paws, and mouths off of the poinsettias. Have a safe and Happy Holiday Season!
If you are looking for a gift for the gardener or fun lover in your life and need something more than a poinsettia, consider purchasing a ticket for the January 25th, 2014 “Q & A with Paul James” event to support the Pitt County Arboretum. The event will be held at the J.H. Rose High School Performing Arts Center. Come with all your gardening questions for the guy who knows how to make gardening fun, Paul James, the Gardener Guy, former host of HGTV’s Gardening by the Yard show that ran from 1996 to 2009. Tickets purchased early are $20 for the general public and $15 for Friends of the Arboretum. Tickets purchased at the door will be $30. Tickets are available for purchase at the Pitt County Extension Office and Wild Birds Unlimited in Greenville. Call 902-1709 for ticket purchase information or visit https://pitt.ces.ncsu.edu. If you have gardening questions call 902-1705 or email pittcomgv@hotmail.com.